The Forest Theater Guild presents a brave portrayal of Evita.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Midway through the opening performance of the Forest Theater Guild's Evita, Michael Uribes has a breakthrough as Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara.
During his first song, “Oh What a Circus,” he comes off a little stilted, which is understandabe– it’s a big number with which to open. But he soon shows the first signs that he can handle the Che character (as pivotol a role as Eva Peron) with the hilarious duet “Good Night and Thank You.” With this second song, Uribes’ voice warms, his movements get vaudeville loose and he locates the right pitch for Che’s cynicism and jest.
By his next song, the ballad “High Flying Adored,” it’s Uribe who’s flying. It’s hard not to see him soaring to greater heights as the play’s run proceeds.
He had major help, of course: He’s singing some of the most enduring songs from one of the most successful and loved musicals ever. It debuted on Broadway in 1979 where it won seven Tony awards and became a perennial hit. In fact, many feel Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice reached the peak of their creative collaboration with Evita, which traces the meteoric life of Eva Peron (affectionately named “Evita,” or “little Eva,” by her supporters), from a poor teen waif to the feminist and spiritual leader of Argentina’s underclass. With this sweeping story arc and arsenal of indelible songs, a community theater company like the Forest Theater Guild almost can’t go wrong. Almost.
The story starts, as it always has, on the elegiac note of Eva’s death. A contingent of young cast members decked out in 1950s period costume carry the coffin of their beloved “Santa Evita” down to the stage and sing the anguished “Requiem for Evita.” So far so good.
Flash back to 1934, when a 15-year-old Eva Peron (played by Michelle Boulware) flirts and pleads for visiting nightclub performer Magaldi (Chris Scardina) to take her to Buenos Aires in the duet “Eva Beware of the City.” Scardina affects such arrogance in Magaldi that he sends the portrayal over the top at times. The dancing and singing by the young ensemble cast members, though technically rough, is earnest and a joy to watch.
A little later, once Eva’s arrived in Buenos Aires and is “climbing” a ladder of men to the top, an odd thing happens during the song “Good Night and Thank You”: Another actress, Sylvia Gonzalez, dressed in mourning black, switches places mid song with Boulware. The desired effect is unclear. We were just getting to know Boulware, with her belting singing and stately carriage. Then, another switch– from actress Gonzalez to Phyllis Davis. Then yet another Eva enters the picture: Anna Dille. All four Eva Perons now share the stage, and though Uribes is in fine form as ringmaster, by the end of the song the audience seems unsure about applauding.
For the rest of the production, the four Evas continue to switch places, and share songs and scenes, without a clear thematic reason. Though the four actresses possess considerable talents, at long stretches three Evas are left with little to do but pose while a lone Eva performs. It is, as one audience member admitted, “a little confusing.” With a show as spirited and as good as Evita, the move seems like fixing something that wasn’t broken.
The backdrop, colorful vertical murals inspired by the Works Progress Administration art of the 1930s and ’40s, presents a second curious development. Thematically, proletariat workers inhabit both the musical and the murals– but they’re difficult to spot in the murals because they are sliced up and rearranged into abstraction.
Fortunately, though, Forest Theater Guild’s Evita is much more about two other things: story and music. The story stays faithfully intact. And the singing, at times, achieves inspirational heights. Davis knocks her songs out the park. Dille sings in a classical recital style, with verve and a slightly distracting British inflection. Gonzalez is a gloomy Eva, but nails the accent and pathos on the dying swan song “Lament.” Student actress Amanda Urisino Fridley as Juan Peron’s dismissed mistress wrings dejection, innocence and resolve from her lone song, “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” for which applause erupted.
The four Evas team up to sing “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” as a chorus, and it’s a sparkling trophy rendition. But a close contender comes from Uribes’ “And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out),” where he unleashes a rock falsetto wail worthy of Meatloaf.
At show’s close, a final curious development unfolds when a young man walks onstage from the wings to the tune of the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man.” Carrying a bunch of roses, he proposes to actress Anna Dille. Stunned and double glowing from her just-finished performance and the moment, she accepts.
He picked his Eva. Director Laura Akard should take his cue.
EVITA plays 8pm Thursday-Saturday, 7pm Sunday, through July 27, at Outdoor Forest Theater, Santa Rita and Mountain View, Carmel. $10/child; $15/student; $25/adult; $20/senior. 626-1681, www.foresttheaterguild.org.